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I have been tagged by hip to code to list seven things I approve of. Since “things” is a little too general for me, I’m going to narrow it down to seven bad television shows I approve of. In no particular order:
Best Week Ever This half-hour show at first looks as dumb as the other VH1 pop culture shows like I Love The 80s. But even though it has the same lame ADD format (people you’ve never heard of talking about a short clip shown several times), this show is truly funny. Not only do you get to catch up on the “news,” but you get to see some of the best comic delivery on TV. No, I’m serious.
Intervention Ever toy with the idea of just letting go and getting addicted to meth or crack or alcohol? Every think that maybe things would just be easier if you finally took up that eating disorder? You should probably think again and just get addicted to Intervention, like me. The episodes are like hour-long windows into a person’s life gone wrong. I find it not only fascinating but really well done – they aren’t preachy or damning and they don’t treat the addicts like monsters or freakshows. Instead, they’re compassionate about the causes and powers of addiction. It’s like getting to watch a really well done documentary every week.
The Colbert Report With the writers’ strike, The Daily Show and other similar shows have really suffered and declined. But Steven Colbert has pushed forward, carrying the entire show on his back. It just gets better and better the more empty time he is allowed to fill on his own.
Biggest Loser This is the only reality show that doesn’t make me feel bad about myself – like I’m a voyeur who revels in other people’s pain and bad judgment (although this is generally true). Since the contestants are working together toward a common goal instead of fighting against each other, it’s more about teamwork than anything else. In fact, the lamest part of the show is the forced competition that the producers have wedged into the show. Still, if you ignore that and focus on the part where people reclaim their lives after years of letting themselves go (in more ways than physically) it makes for pretty good viewing.
The Wire I’ve already written about this one.
Rock of Love I’d like to know how one could go wrong by putting a few dozen strippers (and your odd small-time porn actress) in with a over-the-hill mediocre rock star. I think the thing that fascinates me about strippers is that they are a self-selecting group of women who 1) will do anything and 2) lack the ability to do anything well (except perhaps lick their own breasts). I also think this show is the best argument against plastic surgery that I have ever seen.
Flight of the Conchords So we bought HBO to watch the last season of the Wire, and now we can’t stop watching this other HBO original series, a musical comedy about two New Zealand friends who have an unsuccessful band in New York City. Although it looks and sounds a little too quirky and indie rock (even for me), it is truly funny. Don’t bother searching for a plot, though.
There you have it. Now I get to call out people specifically to list seven things they approve of? How about if you’re reading this, feel free to answer. And, of course, if you are watching some good/bad TV, please alert me! God knows I don’t watch enough already.
I’ve been catching snippets of this new A&E television show Paranormal State. The show chronicles the investigations taken up by a number of paranormal enthusiasts and mediums. I’m not sure if I’ve seen enough of the show to actually know the thrust or structure of the show, but I have seen enough to get the idea that it mostly consists of adults holding flashlights up to their faces, sitting in a circle, and listening for weird noises and claiming to get chills.
“Do you smell that?” one of them will say. “I smell tobacco! There is a spirit here!”
It’s very similar to a fourth grade sleepover except that they have some sort of a thermal sensor, which seems to be a vague way to detect ghosts. I find it mildly interesting, although much less interesting than one of A&E’s other shows, Intervention, which I am ironically addicted to.
In any case, as I was lying in bed not sleeping last night, with the heavy footsteps of our upstairs neighbors above me and the sounds of boring, floral bedspread sex coming from our neighbors across the way, I realized that if a city apartment was actually ever haunted, no one would really notice.
Every time I hear weird sounds late at night, I immediately accredit them to any one of the weird families and couples that reside in our building or any one of the sketchy structural problems our apartment suffers from. If there were a ghost, who perhaps tried to freak me out by speaking in tongues through the wall, I’m just going to assume it’s the vaguely Eastern European family upstairs, talking in their sounds-like-Russian-but-definitely-isn’t-Russian language. If there were a ghost who tried to freak me out by making strange tapping and creaking noises, I wouldn’t be able to differentiate them from our crazy radiator noises. If there were a ghost who blew tobacco smoke into a room in order to alert me of his presence, I would probably just assume that our chain-smoking landlord was within a 50-yard radius of our building.
I love the image, though, of frustrated ignored ghosts trying so hard to haunt loud, rickety apartments to no avail. After a few years of fruitless attempts to scare the crap out of people, they would take up ghost checkers or ghost knitting. A few years after that, the murder they’re trying to avenge or the spooky message they are trying to relay would be forgotten. They would probably sit around and watch Paranormal State, too, and think about how easy those rural farmhouse ghosts have it.
Over the last year or so, Ben and I have watched the first four seasons of The Wire through Netflix. For a while, I thought that it was just something pretty okay to watch after we had exhausted every other HBO drama in existence. If anything, I found it a little hard to follow. But now, having finished Season Four last week and having just subscribed to HBO for the sole reason of watching Season Five in real time, I’m going to step out on a limb and say that it’s the best show on television.
To put it simply, I feel passionate about it. While watching a documentary on the show (on HBO On Demand, which comes with our new and more expensive cable package) one of the producers of the show pointed out that it had never won an Emmy. “Never won an Emmy?” the producer asks, “I think it should win the Nobel Prize in literature.”
I know that statement sounds completely ridiculous, but it sums up how I feel. Some other critic described it as “the best book I’ve ever watched.” And it’s true. The show has a very literary feel. More than that, I’ll go out on another limb – I guess this is maybe a smaller twig-like limb that juts off from the earlier limb- and say that the show seems Shakespearian to me. The language, the plots, the characters – they all reach for something higher and ring truer than anything else I’ve ever watched instead of read.
But let’s move on to some solid description and examples: at first glance, it’s a cop show that takes place in Baltimore. You’ve got your policemen, your drug dealers, and your lawyers. But this show goes so much deeper than shows like Law & Order (which I also enjoy watching on a different level) that the writers and actors succeed in creating a huge, complex universe in which every action follows to a necessary end. Each group and community has their own language and their own way of living and you can see how amorphous “the right thing” is – an individual’s moral code, a community’s moral code, and the code of the law can all be completely different entities.
In Season Four alone, Ben and I counted ten separate storylines that are followed in each episode – ranging from a mayoral election to a corner war to a stolen police camera to a group of four boys starting the eighth grade. And yet, slowly, the stories weave in and out of each other and bounce off of each other. Solid, deliberate connections aren’t made, but by the last episode you can begin to feel the huge inner workings of the city and the complexity of the problems that cities like Baltimore are facing.
What I’m trying to say is, The Wire doesn’t simplify anything. It might have an easier storyline to follow if it did, or it might even have a character who you could point to and say was all good or all bad if it did, but it doesn’t. Sure, it’s hard to understand the drug dealers’ street talk and the lawyers’ deposition talk and the policemen’s detective talk, but when it all starts clicking, it’s well worth it. And like Shakespeare’s tragedies, even though you see the tragedies of The Wire play out slowly and inevitably, you’re still riveted. I think it comes down to the complexity of the characters: each character’s strength is also their weakness.
Let’s take my favorite character in the series, Omar, for example. Omar is a black man who lives in an abandoned building and steals from drug dealers for a living. He is a living legend in the city. He carries a shotgun and wears a bullet proof vest. He’s a homosexual. He kills people in cold blood, although he never “works” on Sundays or swears. He never kills taxpayers. He never sells the drugs he steals to users. He’s in the game, but he doesn’t play by the rules of the game. You might say that he’s been alienated by others and treated as inhuman by his culture, and so he is inhumane – but that’s way too simple. It’s a lot of things. It takes about four seasons to halfway understand why Omar might do what he does.
I feel like I’m gushing a little, so I’m going to stop. I certainly can’t do the show justice in a blog post. Just do everyone a favor and rent the first season if you haven’t seen it.